“I’m a firm believer that we can all move mountains if we believe in ourselves.”
Amira B is an up-and-coming Egyptian singer-songwriter who leans on her Egyptian, Russian and American roots and influences for her two iconic albums – her latest US release “Do You” due out soon. And she has achieved this all against the odds, as she has twice come back from career-threatening illnesses to wow audiences with her mix of urban R&B, soul, funk and hip hop influences.
Her latest single, “Do You” from the album of the same name is a “message……that you are beautiful, talented, and can do anything you want, as long as you put your mind to it.”
Please introduce yourself to our readers, tell us about your music: the type of music you play, where you are from, and how you got started?
I was born in Cairo, Egypt, and lived in Volgograd, Russia, until 1998. Volgograd is a small provincial town south of Moscow and that’s where I began playing classical piano aged four.
When I moved to New York City, I had just turned seven and experienced a culture shock. I thought my new home was a hotel because everything was shiny, the elevators clean and fast. I remember tasting the water from the faucet and thinking “Wow, this water is even amazing!” NYC was like a fairytale to me; I’d never seen anything like it before, let alone lived somewhere so amazing. Since then, I’ve grown up on the city’s Upper West Side. It’s everything everyone describes it as: “the city that never sleeps” “hustling non-stop to get to the top.”
I attended SMS (Special Music School) from 5th-8th grade, where I continued my classical piano studies and realized I wanted to become a singer. I enrolled in an after-school musical theatre youth program called City Lights – that’s where I started performing as a singer and actress. Once I graduated SMS, I continued my musical studies at LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts (the “Fame” school) as a vocal major and discovered I could write original songs in my sophomore year (10th grade). Since then, I’ve been writing and recording soulful R&B songs.
What inspired you to be a part of the music industry?
I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. My mom has videos of me singing in a holiday pageant in Russia when I was three. My family is very musical, and I grew up in a home filled with music. My mom never studied but has a beautiful voice.
My stepfather’s mother is a music teacher who has supported me since I first came to America, practising with me and taking me to opera and musical theatre in NYC. My stepfather was a drummer and took me to my first rock concerts, including Steely Dan, one of my all-time favourites.
My biological father’s family was very prominent in showbusiness in Egypt. My aunt Samah Anwar is a famous TV/movie star/director. My grandpa was a well-known playwright, and my grandma was an actress. I’m glad I had a chance to meet them, even though I wasn’t close to them. I’m pretty sure entertaining and performing runs in my blood and is my destiny.
What is your genre of music?
I like blending the genres of R&B, Soul, and Funk, with elements of Hip Hop.
How does your Russian and Egyptian roots affect your music?
To me, being Russian and Egyptian makes me different, and I’ve always tried to keep that uniqueness in my music, by tastefully pushing musical boundaries.
Tell us about your debut album ‘Defined’ how was the experience working on it?
My debut album “Defined” was a project comprised of songs I wrote throughout my time in college at SUNY Purchase & University of Miami, with a few throwback songs from High School. I’m proud of the way it turned out even with the amount of limited resources I had at that point in my career as an artist, but I would love to eventually re-record it with a full live band and name it “Re-DEFINED” (Re-Mastered)!
Did you have any challenges at the beginning of your career?
In 2010, when I just got to the University of Miami to study Music Business & Songwriting, I came down with vocal nodules. I was put on and off vocal rest: so no singing for two years. However, it didn’t help, and in 2012, my doctors decided I needed surgery. Instead of operating on the vocal chords, which could have changed my vocal range, timbre and texture, they decided to take my tonsils out. My doctors told me I would have to learn how to sing with a pseudo-cyst on my vocal chords but that it wouldn’t be impossible. I thought this was the end of my career, even though the doctors stayed positive. After my surgery, I was sick with bronchitis, and when I went for my post-op check-up, my doctor scoped me and told me “Amira, I have no medical explanation for this and I’ve never seen this in my life, but it looks like your pseudo-cyst is gone!” Since then, I had had another vocal scare with a pre-nodule in October 2018, but I was able to get rid of it with proper vocal therapy and polishing up on voice lessons.
Why did you decide to release the album independently?
I’ve been writing music for over a decade now, and I had nothing to show for it because of all my vocal complications. I wanted to get something out to the public as fast as possible, and that’s mainly why I chose to release “Defined” independently. For me, it was about creating a set of music that would work well together as an album and live on stage.
I knew record labels wouldn’t be interested in this project because it’s not commercial. Although the album was well-received by indie blogs Atwood Magazine, AXS, and The Deli Magazine, I don’t think it necessarily connected with people as much as I wanted it to. At this point as an artist, I’m trying to make enough waves in the music industry independently, build up my audience, and if an opportunity arises with a record label, I’d be open to it.
Describe each of your tracks in two words.
l “Left in the Dark” – lost, depressed
l “No Desire” – addiction, forgotten
l “Killin’ Me” – anguish, heartbroken
l “Talk” – confused, annoyed
l “Wouldn’t I Like to Know” – wondering, limbo
l “Lie” – lust, fooled
l “I Won’t Argue With You Anymore” – fighting, resentment
l “I Don’t Know” – broken relationship
l “Impossible” – fed up
l “I Am Defined” – confident, reflection
l “Just Another Thing” – side piece
l “Never Gonna Fall in Love” – flirty, fun
l “Do You” – self-love
What message are you trying to get out?
The message I’m trying to get out as an artist, especially on my latest single “Do You” is that YOU are beautiful, talented, and can do anything you want, as long as you put your mind to it and don’t forget what’s INSIDE OF YOU! “All you need is you” and I’m a firm believer that we can all move mountains and do our best if we believe in ourselves. Just do what makes you happy, and everything else will fall into place!
How excited are you about your upcoming EP?
I’m SO excited to be releasing new music this summer especially as it’s so different from my first album. 2018 was a transitional year for me, full of self-growth and shifting my sound to a more urban one. “Do You” is the first single off my next EP also titled “Do You” and the response from everyone so far has been incredible. It’s been a fantastic experience working with producer CARRTOONS, and I can’t wait to share what else we’ve been working on.
Describe your creative process?
When it comes to writing, every song is a different process for me. Sometimes the
melody comes first, sometimes the chord progression is the first thing I write, and sometimes I’ll have a lyric written that I try to put music to. It also depends on whether I’m creating something from scratch because sometimes I’ll get a beat sent to me and I’ll have to write to that. Working with CARRTOONS, we had a nice mix of everything: some songs I brought to him, and they just needed production, some songs he gave me to write to, and some we just started from scratch. It all depends on who you’re working with and how you want your writing process to be. I like to keep an open mind and try not to box myself into some songwriting formula because magic can’t happen that way.
What artists are inspiring you at the moment?
I’m digging Anderson .Paak, KAYTRANADA, Jorja Smith, H.E.R., Ariana Grande, Jill Scott, SZA, and Janell Monae.
What are your plans for the future?
I’d love to tour the US or anywhere else in the world. My debut album received good reviews, and the crowds at my gigs have been growing, but it’s an incredibly competitive business, and I know there’s still much more work to do. I’m not worried – I’m still in the early stages of my career and believe getting my big break is just a matter of time!
What are some of your other hobbies and interests?
I love baseball. I played boys, little league until I was 13 years old and I was the only girl on the team. My HS softball team were NYC divisional champions, and I still play co-ed softball on several teams! I’m extremely active and practice Bikram & Vinyasa Yoga at least 2-3 times a week, as well as a workout at the gym. I enjoy swimming, hiking, skiing, painting, going to the beach, anything outdoorsy really. I love binge-watching terrible TV shows and romantic comedies – it’s my guilty pleasure!
Your favourite food?
I could eat a shawarma wrap with falafel and lamb/chicken every day – I guess that’s the Egyptian side of me!
Your favourite city to travel?
I lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a while in 2015 and got to travel to Thailand. I fell in love with the food, the people, and how beautiful it was, especially Krabi Beach. I could see myself going back there, getting lost, and never coming back!
Your message for CiiN magazine?
Never quit on your dreams – always believe in yourself, practice self-love, and you’ll learn you can accomplish anything